U.S. plans to establish a “border guard force” led by a Kurdish militia in northwestern Syria may “irreversibly harm” relations with Turkey, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in a meeting with his U.S. counterpart Rex Tillerson in Vancouver late on Jan. 16.
Issues such as U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Turkey’s continued extradition request for the Pennsylvania-based Fethullah Gülen have already damaged bilateral ties, Çavuşoğlu said.
“I bluntly told Tillerson that the [Kurdish border guard force] situation is very unfortunate and serious. I said these two issues could threaten our bilateral ties and could lead us down an irreversible route,” he added.
Çavuşoğlu also said Turkey’s precautions against Kurdish forces in Syria are not limited to the northwestern city of Afrin but can expand to Manbij, east of the Euphrates River.
“Turkey’s precautions against the YPG/PKK [People’s Protection Units/Kurdistan Workers’ Party] cannot be limited to Afrin. There is also Manbij and the east of the Euphrates River,” he said.
“We have previously said we would retaliate against YPG/PKK terrorist attacks in Afrin on our observation points in Idlib, where our Euphrates Shield Operation soldiers are, as well as against the Free Syrian Army [FSA]. No one should come against us,” Çavuşoğlu added.
He said “different opinions” between the Pentagon and the U.S. Central Command, as well as between various institutions and ministries in the U.S. regarding support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the YPG, have been “causing problems.”
Recalling past U.S. support to the SDF in operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Manbij and Raqqa, Çavuşoğlu urged the U.S. to “keep its promises.”
“The promises made for Manbij and Raqqa have not been kept,” he said, referring to a promise from Washington that local councils would run the cities after they were liberated rather than the YPG.
“The U.S. previously stated that the [Democratic Union Party] PYD/PKK was not its strategic partner, [that] in fact they were only working together to defeat ISIL,” Çavuşoğlu said, urging the U.S. to stop supporting the group and to retrieve its weapons as Washington promised.
“As we can see, we have many reasons to be skeptical and we have enough reasons to take our own precautions,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition, officially known as Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), stressed that the coalition does not include northern Afrin.
“The coalition’s mission has not changed: To defeat ISIS [ISIL] in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and set conditions for follow-on operations to increase regional stability,” Dillon said in a written statement sent to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.
On the same day, the Pentagon said the U.S. does not support the PYD elements in Afrin and does not see them as part of the fight against ISIL.
“We don’t consider them part of our Defeat ISIS [Daesh] operations which is what we are doing there and we do not support them,” Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway told Anadolu Agency in an email.
Earlier in the day, the Pentagon said Washington acknowledges Turkey’s concerns over its plans for a border security force in Syria and vowed that “close communications” with Turkey will continue.
In a meeting on Jan. 16, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that Ankara will “never accept a force in Syria led by the SDF.”
In the face of recent developments in Syria, Turkey will take “all necessary measures to protect its national security,” Erdoğan said.
For his part, Stoltenberg said Turkey is a 65-year member of the alliance and an important country for NATO, adding that NATO “was not consulted” on the matter of U.S. plans for the border force.